With about 260 documentaries being shown this year at Hot Docs, it's been quite the task, despite all of the summaries in the event's guide book, to get a full picture of what's available in advance. You can't really capture it all, so as Hot Docs proceeds, it's inevitable that some films feel like they just "popped up" once you finally get into the cinemas. (Many films are available to the press in pre-festival screenings, or as screeners to be watched online, while some are not made available in advance.) So, here are some that, along with the others that we have already covered, I expect will be of particular interest to those who read UrbanToronto.
The Proposal is one of the most audacious films I have seen at Hot Docs over the years. It tells the story of conceptual artist Jill Magid's stay at the home of the late Pritzker Prize-winning architect Luis Barragán and her attempts to study his work. (If you're intrigued by Barragán's work like I am, you'll no doubt be keen to see a film of his work, like I was: imagery is not produced that often.)
What she finds is that Barragán's archive is now in Switzerland, and controlled by the family which owns the iconic furniture company Vitra. Access to the archive is very tightly controlled, and even the copyright of any images of Barragán's work is controlled by them. Magid is tenacious, respectful, and personable in her quest to gain access, but is rebuffed. Access to the de-patriated archive is a sore point for Mexico in general, and Magid asks what it means if an architect's legacy, especially one considered a national treasure, should be controlled and restricted in such a way. Her answer is that it should not, so Magid, in cooperation with Barragán's family, devises a stunning proposal for the archive owners to consider, one that I cannot spoil here. Not everyone will agree with Magid's offer, but she has no doubt opened a badly needed conversation in an unforgettable way.
Second and third screenings play on Friday, May 4 at 10:30 AM at the Lightbox, and Sunday, May 6 at 3:15 PM at the Scotiabank Theatre. Both screenings have tickets available online for the moment.
The Real Thing is a 54-minute-long film that covers just the opposite of what the title declares. You've seen the images of an Eiffel Tower in a new town in China, but have you seen Venice, China, or London's Tower Bridge in simulacrum? Maybe you know that there's a cathedral in Côte d'Ivoire with a dome that replicates Rome's St Peter's. Director Benoît Felici delves into what is behind the copycat landmarks that pop up around the world (and in the case of Sky City, China, where you'll find a whole mini-Paris, not just the Eiffel Tower). French geographer Jean-François Stazak weighs in on what drives our need for identity through sense of place, and what the buildings in our midst do for us.
The Real Thing runs with a pair of shorts, both of which should also appeal to the UrbanToronto crowd. The Earth Is Humming looks at Japan's relationship to the land that occasionally shifts beneath their feet, and how they prepare for it.
The Traffic Separating Device, however, is the film that kicks the screening off, and it will be of particular delight for those who shake their head any time someone drives their car into Toronto's Queens Quay streetcar tunnel. In this film, Stockholm has installed a device to stop cars from entering a congested area of town, which—despite all the warning signs that have been put up—manages to snag driver after driver in its tire-blowing trap. Toronto is putting in a gate this year, but you'll wonder if something a little more menacing might be more in order after seeing this film.
The Real Thing, The Earth Is Humming, and The Traffic Separating Device all play together twice more at the festival. Tickets for the Thursday, May 3 show can be obtained at the Lightbox in advance of the 4 PM screening. Tickets for the Sunday 1:15 PM screening, also at the Lightbox, can be purchased online until the end of Saturday (or until they sell out).